15 Basic Photography Composition Rules: improve your photos!

Before you just step up and take a picture you should consider what you want your viewers to look at and how you should display main points of interest.

There are no fixed rules in photography, but there are guidelines which can often help you to enhance the impact of your photos.

In this tutorial, I’ve listed 15 of these guidelines with examples of each. I’ve started with the most basic ones and finished with some of the more innovating composition techniques.

Before all, I need to define the word “composition”. It refers to the way the various elements in a scene are arranged within a frame. They aren’t rules for this but guidelines as I’ve mentioned already. But we need to remember that they’ve been used in art for thousands of years and they really help us to obtain more attractive results. I always keep in mind some guidelines when I’m shooting as an instinct thinking.

#1. Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is very simple. You divide the frame into 9 equal rectangles, 3 across and 3 down as illustrated below.

I wrote about this basic rule in my previous post. you can follow this link for more deep information:

https://www.migueldasilva.net/blog/rule-of-thirds-start-taking-superb-photographies

#2. Balacing elements

Placing your main subject off-centre, as with the rule of thirds, creates a more interesting photo, but it can leave a void in the scene which can make it feel empty. You can achieve a balanced composition and even out the main subject's "visual weight" by including another object of lesser importance to fill the space.

Copyright Jason Row

Copyright Jason Row

#3. Centred Composition and Symmetry

After the first and second guideline where I’ve told you not to place the main subject in the centre of the frame, I’m going to tell you to do the exact opposite! There are times when placing a subject in the centre of the frame works really well. Symmetrical scenes are perfect for a centred composition.

#4. Fill The Frame / Cropping

Sometimes, leaving too much empty space within a photo can make your main character appear smaller than you’d like. Of course, this can come in handy if you’re trying to capture how small your little one is next to a particular person or thing. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to zoom in close on your subject or “fill the frame.”

#5. Frame Within the Frame

Framing is the tactic of using natural surroundings to add more meaning to your subject.  It could be anything such as bushes, trees, a window, or even a doorway like in the picture at the top of this page.  In the process of doing this you need to be careful that you don’t only focus on what’s framing your subject.  Make sure you focus on the main subject, and also it is a good idea to use a narrow aperture (high f/stop) to achieve a high depth-of-field.  It also wouldn’t hurt if the part of the picture framing the subject was darker so make sure you take your light reading on the main subject.

#6.  Leading Lines

Leading lines help lead the viewer through the image and focus attention on important elements.

When we look at a photo our eye is naturally drawn along lines. By thinking about how you place these leading lines in your composition, you can affect the way we view the image, pulling us into the picture, towards the subject, or on a journey "through" the scene.

There are many different types of line - straight, diagonal, curvy, zigzag, radial etc - and each can be used to enhance our photo's composition. Anything from paths, walls or patterns can be used as leading lines.

Take a look at the examples below.

#7. Simplicity

Simplicity is the method of keeping the information in a photograph relatively simple.  If your main subject is close, then your background should be very simple to avoid distractions.  You should try to keep everything not important much less interesting than what’s important in the frame.  Especially avoid lines or objects that lead the eye away from the subject.

#8. Change your Point of View

Before photographing your subject, take time to think about where you will shoot it from. Our viewpoint has a massive impact on the composition of our photo, and as a result it can greatly affect the message that the shot conveys. Rather than just shooting from eye level, consider photographing from high above, down at ground level, from the side, from the back, from a long way away, from very close up, and so on.

#9. DEPTH

Having fore-, middle- and background detail will add depth to your image as well as draw the eye through the picture. Compositional elements that compliment each other, for example with colour or by association, work well but do be careful with the size of objects you use and how you place them as you don't want the shot to be thrown off balance. You don't want a rock in the foreground of your landscape shot, for example, drawing the eye away from the hills and mountains in the background. Adding water to the foreground can also lighten your shot as well as adding an extra element of interest as it reflects the sky back out.

#10. Colors Combination

Choosing colors and color combinations for photography requires planning if not effort. Use of color in photography is an Art as old as photography itself but most of us don’t realize the importance of co-ordination and planning. In this guide, we will consider some tips to get the best color combinations when posing for photos. But first: we will consider the best color combinations for decorative landscape photos especially from the point of view of wall art and interior design.

As you can see in the portrait below, the green color of the dress meets perfectly with the tulips by intermediate colors.

#11. Foreground Interest and Depth

Including some foreground interest in a scene is a great way of adding a sense of depth to the scene. Photographs are 2D by nature. Including foreground interest in the frame is one of a number of techniques to give the scene a more 3D feel.

#12. BACKGROUND

How many times have you taken what you thought would be a great shot, only to find that the final image lacks impact because the subject blends into a busy background? The human eye is excellent at distinguishing between different elements in a scene, whereas a camera has a tendency to flatten the foreground and background, and this can often ruin an otherwise great photo. Thankfully this problem is usually easy to overcome at the time of shooting - look around for a plain and unobtrusive background and compose your shot so that it doesn't distract or detract from the subject.

#13. Patterns, Textures and symmetry

Texture can add a significant amount of interest in any picture.  When people see texture in pictures they start imagining what it feels like to touch what’s in the picture.  Texture is a good idea when your taking pictures of rocks, walls, surfaces, someone’s hands, or leaves.  In order to make a picture reveal a texture you must make sure the light is coming almost exactly from the side of the surface so it creates shadows in places key places.

Human beings are naturally attracted to patterns. They are visually attractive and suggest harmony. Patterns can be man made like a series of arches or natural like the petals on a flower. Incorporating patterns into your photographs is always a good way to create a pleasing composition. Less regular textures can also be very pleasing on the eye.

We are surrounded by symmetry and patterns, both natural and man-made. They can make for very eye-catching compositions, particularly in situations where they are not expected. Another great way to use them is to break the symmetry or pattern in some way, introducing tension and a focal point to the scene.

#14. Diagonals and Triangles

It is often said that triangles and diagonals add ‘dynamic tension’ to a photo. What do we mean by ‘dynamic tension’ though? Look at it this way, horizontal lines and vertical lines suggest stability. If you see a person standing on a level horizontal surface, he will appear to be pretty stable. Put this man on a sloping surface and he’ll seem less stable. This creates a certain level of tension visually. We are not so used to diagonals in our every day life. They subconsciously suggest instability. Incorporating triangles and diagonals into our photos can help create this sense of ‘dynamic tension’.

Incorporating triangles into a scene is a particularly good effective way of introducing dynamic tension. Triangles can be actual triangle-shaped objects or implied triangles.

#15. EXPERIMENTATION

It exists so many different composition guidelines or rules in art and photography that it only depends on you to search, follow them or simply try and experiment by yourself.

With the dawn of the digital age in photography we no longer have to worry about film processing costs or running out of shots. As a result, experimenting with our photos' composition has become a real possibility; we can fire off tons of shots and delete the unwanted ones later at absolutely no extra cost. Take advantage of this fact and experiment with your composition - you never know whether an idea will work until you try it.